Moral Statement Supporting an Empty Homes Tax in San Francisco
“Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!” – Isaiah 5:8
At the age of 75, Bill was forced out of his San Francisco home of 20 years by a large property management firm, and had to start life over in Chico. In her 80’s, Elizabeth chose to stop taking her medication after receiving an eviction notice from her landlord, and died shortly thereafter. Meanwhile Maria, a single mother of two who has already been evicted twice during the pandemic because her job doesn’t pay nearly enough, is now fighting to stay in the only thing that is keeping her and her kids from being forced onto the streets, a structurally deficient and neglected hotel room.
These stories are part of a long history of “urban renewal” programs designed to create wealth for real estate development and financial interests by removing poor and working-class people from their homes and redeveloping properties for a profit. The plan was to make San Francisco richer and whiter while undermining the power of organized labor. In the words of a 1966 planning report, “If San Francisco decides to compete effectively with other cities for new ‘clean’ industries and new corporate power, its population will move closer to ‘standard white Anglo Saxon protestant’ characteristics” (San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association, Prologue to Action, 1966).
As faith leaders, we condemn this racist and classist history and its ongoing legacy of diminishing the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of our City. We are tired of seeing our neighbors pushed out of the city or onto the streets, while thousands of housing units lie vacant. Our scriptures warn us that wealth inequality and confiscation of lands and homes lead to moral decay and social unrest. They teach us that everyone deserves a home. Housing for all, not just wealth for the few: this is the moral foundation for a just economic order.
The Budget and Legislative Analyst’s recent report on residential vacancies revealed that 10% of San Francisco’s housing stock is unoccupied. More than 40,000 housing units were empty at the end of 2020. While units may be vacant for a variety of reasons, a significant number are second homes or investment properties that were never intended to be occupied.
This same report indicated that the City is well short of its goals for building affordable housing (very low income, low income, and moderate housing is only at 35% of goal), while the goal for developing market rate housing has been exceeded (reaching 148% of goal). What comes into view is a picture of more and more market rate housing being built to generate wealth for fewer and fewer people, while poor and working-class families continue to be displaced and evicted because they can’t keep up with rising housing costs.
One way to begin to reverse this legacy of unjust wealth accumulation is the adoption of an empty homes tax. A carefully crafted and fairly implemented tax on vacant residential units would incentivize putting available housing on the market, the development of affordable housing, and generating much-needed funds to provide rental subsidies to those struggling to remain in their homes and recover from this pandemic. We support this incremental but necessary step to recover the soul of San Francisco.
We invite all clergy and those working in a pastoral role in San Francisco to sign this statement here.
Rev. Marci Auld Glass, Pastor and Head of Staff, Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco
Rev. Elaine Donlin, Buddhist Church of San Francisco
Rev. Monique L. Ortiz, St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church
Rabbi Mychal Copeland, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav
Cantor Sharon Bernstein, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav
The Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. Dr. Erwin C. Barron, Old First Presbyterian
Rev. Dr. Theresa Cho, St. John’s Presbyterian Church
Rev. Annie Steinberg Behrman, Metropolitan Community Church San Francisco
Bishop Ernest L. Jackson, Grace Tabernacle Community Church
Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, Or Shalom Jewish Community
Rabbi Abby Phelps, Reform Judaism
The Rev. Lyle J Beckman, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Rev. Donald P. Hammond, The English Worshipping Community of the Presbyterian Church In Chinatown
Rev. David Erickson, The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Rev. Evangeline Pua, Gereja Kristen Indonesian (GKI) in San Francisco
Sr. Eva Camberos, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady of Peace
Rev. Angela Brown, JD, United Methodist Church
Rev. Sadie Stone, Bethany United Methodist Church
The Rev. John Kirkley, St. James Episcopal Church
Rev. Millie Phillips, Unitarian Universalist Minister
Father Richard Smith, Episcopal
The Rev. Kevin Neil, Vicar, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
The Rev. Deacon Davidson Bidwell-Waite
The Reverend Susanna Singer, PhD, Professor Emerita
Rev. Joanna Lawrence Shenk, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
Rev. Sheri Hostetler, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
Patricia Plude, D.Min., First Menonite Church of San Francisco
The Rev. Jane McDougle, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church
Phyllis Shulman, Ph.D., MFT
Rev. Victor H. Floyd (UCC/MCC), Minister of Spiritual Care, Calvary Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joann Lee, Calvary Presbyterian Church
Alison Faison, Director of Children and Family Ministries, Calvary Presbyterian Church
John Talbott, Elder, Committee on Theology and Social Concern, Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Rev. Cameron Partridge, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Donald Fox, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church; Night Minister Emeritus, San Francisco Night Ministry
David Hartsough, San Francisco Friends Meeting
Geoffrey Shaskan, San Francisco Friends Meeting, co-chair Peace and Social Concerns
Rev. Cynthia Fong, Redeemer Community Church
Rev. Oleta Proctor, MA, MS, MDiv.
Avital Raff, The Kitchen
The Rev. Rebekah Davis, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
The Rev. Dr. Glenda Hope, San Francisco SafeHouse for Women
Rev. Hannah Elyse Cornthwaite, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church
John M. Brett, Chaplain & Night Minister, San Francisco Night Ministry
The Rev. Nancy Pennekamp, Open Cathedral, SF Night Ministry
Michael Stafford, Interim Associate Minister, The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Rev. Vicki Gray, Former Asst. Night Minister, SF Night Ministry
The Rev. Izabella Sempari, Trinity-St. Peter’s Episcopla Church
Deborah Novachick, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church